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Raúl García - Helping Maintain the Integrity of Curiosity's Mission
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Raúl García is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of Curiosity's mission on Mars and to his parents who helped him realize his goals.

Name: Raúl García
Age: 26
Hometown: Originally from Puerto Rico, he currently lives in Washington D.C. where he attends Howard University
Position: Summer Intern working on the SAM Organic Contaminants Library
Code:699, Planetary Environments Laboratory

What is your background with NASA?

My current faculty advisor, Dr. Misra, needed a student experienced in computer science. During our first meeting Dr. Misra talked to me about a project he had started during the summer. The Organic Contaminants Library for the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) was part of an ongoing initiative to reduce the possibility of contamination from Earth on the Mars surface. I started to work on this project in August 2008 and continued throughout the year. I met Dr. Mahaffy and several people along the way who helped me and in order for me to continue that work over the summer rather than go home I applied for a summer internship in 2009.

What do you do here at Goddard?

I work with the organic contaminants library for the SAM program. SAM is so sensitive that it can detect trace components in the parts per billion range. Previous mission data has been hotly debated. The organic contaminants library was created to account for possible contamination from the rover on Mars samples.
Photo of Raul Garcia› Larger image
Raúl posing with a Curiosity inflatable at the Goddard Visitor Center. Credit: R. García.
Because of the high temperature heating the sample goes through, it is possible for certain materials near the oven to release gas that was dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in the material from here on Earth. When we took the Rover materials we ran them through a Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) and we determined the composition of the molecules.

Using a software program I extract those spectral signatures and compile them all into the library. The problem with that is, well, that it’s kind of hard to keep track of; so to do it I had to develop spreadsheets that contained all the parameters the experiment was run on as well as the contaminants to make the library more searchable. This summer I worked on the final component of the library, which is the normalization of the SAM GCMS to match standardized data, making it possible for anyone unfamiliar with SAM to interpret the data.

In what way does teamwork play a role in your daily tasks?

Teamwork plays an important role in my research. I actually learn so much from the people in my lab.

Photo of Raul Garcia at his poster session.› Larger image
Raúl explains his project during the Poster Session 2012. Credit: R. García

How will this opportunity help you reach your future goals?

My current goal is to work here and possibly work as an academia in an adjunct faculty, just like my mentor. Hopefully this gets me started in the right direction.

What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody just starting their internship or coop experience at Goddard?

Be very communicative. It is very important to put yourself out there. Always be friendly and respectful. They are the experts and will always guide you in the right direction.

If somebody asked you "What is Goddard?" what would you tell them?

It’s a NASA Center but it doesn’t feel like it in the general sense where you develop a rocket and do launches which is what probably what most people think. At Goddard, you have more technical work like SAM and the James Webb Space Telescope.

What are your hobbies outside of the workplace?

I like watching TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad.” I’m also a fan of movies, my favorite being “Snatch.” Also, I enjoy reading. My favorite book is “Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy” by Jostein Gaarder.

Give me the names of three famous people you admire and tell me what you admire about them.

The first would be Dr. Misra who has had tremendous patience with me. He thought of me not only in the academic sense, but also in the social sense of how I am able to communicate with people.

Secondly would be Dr. Paul Mahaffy, Chief of Code 699, the Planetary Environment Laboratories. He’s just an amazing person not only professionally but also personally. He’s an example of how hard work can be so rewarding.

The third person is my father; he has been my inspiration my entire life. He has dedicated himself to us and to his work. He’s an inspiration on so many levels. I don’t think I would have been able to get this far without my parents. They sacrificed so much for my brother and me. I would not be able to thank them sufficiently, no matter what I do, but that’s what drives me forward. My goal is to make them proud and, if anything happens to them, to be able to provide for them.

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.